New research

Survey shows partisan split among MPs on climate and energy issues

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

With one hundred days to go until the election, analysts are eagerly looking for ways to differentiate between the parties. New data suggests MPs' views on energy and climate change could do just that.

Political analysts Dods asked 100 MPs what they thought about the scientific consensus around climate change and their energy preferences. Here's what they had to say.

Climate change

A large majority of the MPs surveyed, 72 out of 100, said they thought more than 75 per cent of scientists attributed climate change mainly to human activities. It was by far the most common answer for MPs from all the parties.

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Source:  Dods Energy Preference Briefing. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Expect twice as many extreme La Niña events under climate change, study warns

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

The Pacific weather phenomenon known as El Niño or 'The Little Boy' is regularly in the news. Scientists keep a close eye on its status as events can cause devastating extreme weather around the world.

But El Niño has a lesser-known sister, La Niña, which also has a dramatic impact on global weather. Now a new study suggests that we could see La Niña events occurring twice as often as the climate warms.

The lesser-known sibling

Every five years or so, weakening trade winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, a phenomena known as El Niño.

La Niña, or 'The Little Girl', is El Niño's cold water counterpart. During La Niña events the trade winds strengthen, and the central and eastern Pacific Ocean becomes even colder than normal. La Niñas are known to bring drought to the southwestern US, floods to Central America, and hurricanes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Together, the warm and cold events form the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and cause most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

Understanding how extreme La Niña will change as global temperatures rise has challenged scientists for the past three decades. A new paper, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that extreme La Niña events will occur almost twice as often in the twenty-first century than they did in the twentieth.

La -nina

Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief

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DNA: How it's helping scientists understand species’ adaptation to climate change

  • 21 Jan 2015, 17:00
  • Robert McSweeney

How species respond to climate change could well determine their chances of survival. A new paper describes how scientists are finding new ways to understand how plants and creatures adapt to climate change - by digging deep into their DNA.

The methods are allowing scientists to measure responses to climate change at a greater scale than ever before, the study's lead author tells Carbon Brief.

DNA sequencing

DNA holds all the genetic information that controls how an organism will develop and function. In humans, it dictates physical traits such as height and  eye colour.

DNA sequencing is the way scientists identify which genes control particular traits in a species. But as organisms may have millions or billions of pieces of DNA, sequencing can be a lengthy process.

The new paper, published in BioScience journal, describes how a technology called 'next-generation DNA sequencing' (NGS) allows scientists to analyse millions of pieces of DNA at the same time. This dramatically reduces how much time and money sequencing takes, the paper says.

Lead author, Prof Jonathon Stillman, uses an analogy of analysing a haystack to describe NGS. Using traditional methods you would need to pick out a few straws and use those to try understand the whole haystack, he says, but with NGS you can look at every straw of hay individually.

Move, adapt or die

So what are scientists doing with all this genetic information?

There are three ways a species can respond to changing conditions: move, adapt or die. While it is relatively easy to measure if a species is dying out, monitoring how it moves or adapts is more difficult. This is because scientists need to be able to study how its DNA or physical characteristics are changing.

Scientists use the data they gather from NGS to see where species migrate and which physical traits they're developing to survive. One  study, for example, uses NGS to track how the habitat of three species of giant clams expanded as sea levels rose after the last ice age. And a  study also published this week shows how polar bears have gradually migrated north in search of more year-round sea ice.

There's more than one way that a species can adapt, the study says, and NGS can help with both.

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